Here We Are

In my post about reading classic literature to children, one reader responded:

Sigh...  I'm coming at this from a totally different angle now, as child #5 is moderately dyslexic.  As we move up into slightly more advanced literature, he is really struggling with complex sentence and paragraph formations.  My usual standby is listen and read at the same time (thank you for Books on CD!!!) but even that doesn't always work.  I've gotten to the point now where, so help me, I provide him with a summary of the chapter first, which he reads, and then goes on to read/listen to the actual chapter.  It seems to be the only way to provide him with a mental framework that he can "hang" the more complex text and structure on.  You MUST understand how much the book-lover in me HATES HATES HATES anything resembling Cliff Notes.  Yet here we are.

Thus spake a good mother who is wiling to make sacrifices for her children.

When I was a young mother, I thought that making sacrifices for your children meant staying up all night to finish sewing a ballet costume, or postponing getting your glasses fixed so you could afford a really awesome birthday present, or saying, "No, you have the last cookie.  I don't even like cookies" (when in fact, you do like cookies, you really, really do).

These things are all sacrifices, and worthy ones.  But then my kids got older, and started to reveal that they were actual people, and not blank slates for me to write on, or duplicates of myself.  And I found myself face to face with a whole new kind of sacrifice:  sacrificing your idea of what kind of mother I was -- my idea of what it means to be a mother.

This one is hard, hard, hard.  Everyone knows what a struggle it is to give up something bad in favor of something good.  But how about giving up something good in favor of what is actually needed?  That brings along a whole worldful of uncomfortable truths with it.  And yet it must be done.  You have to look at a wonderful package full of all sorts of magnificent things, and acknowledge that it has someone else's name on the label, and not yours.

Good parents are the ones who try as hard as they can to do what seems right to them, but still allow themselves to say, "This just isn't working.  Let's try something else."

Good parents are the ones who say, "Wow, this system, plan, or attitude was effective with me, my siblings, and my other six children, and (as far as I can tell from the outside) every other kid in our church, school, and area shopping mall; but for whatever reason, it's not working with this particular kid.  Let's try something else."

Good parents are the ones who say, "I always thought that such-and-such was the skill or activity or interest that made life meaningful.  But it turns out to be the skill or activity or interest that makes MY life meaningful.   This kid is interested in something else.  How can I encourage that?"

Good parents are the ones who say, "This kid doesn't actually seem to have any particular talents that make him stand out.  How can I make sure he knows he's still precious and irreplaceable?"

Good parents are the ones who say, "There is something wrong with my child -- something beyond quirkiness or individuality.  And I can't help him.  I need to turn him over to strangers, and trust that they know how to administer therapy or counseling or training that I am not qualified to provide."

Good parents are the ones who say, "I always thought we'd be THIS kind of family . . . have THIS kind of education  . . . spend our time on these kind of things with these kinds of people . . . but instead, here we are."  Here we are, responding to our actual circumstances, taking care of our actual children, leading our actual lives.

Sometimes, we just have to acknowledge that life has its indisputable stinkiness, and that our own stupid choices, or our own stupid fates, have made it impossible to have what is clearly superior.  But sometimes, we end up open being grateful for our failures, because it make one thing really clear:  we're not here to be particular kinds of parents.  We're here to be the parents of particular kids.

Can you take this kind of thinking too far?  Very easily.  I'm the queen of taking things too far, and I can't count how many times I've patted myself on the back for being flexible, reasonable, open-minded and compassionate, when really all I was being was lazy.

But there have also been dozens of times when utter strangers (hello, internet!) have told me I'm being lazy because of the choices I've made for my kids, when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm doing the right thing for my kids.  Why?  Because they're my kids.  I know them.  I know us.  More than anyone else in the world, my husband and I want what's best for them. We're the one who know, better than anyone else, what we wanted for our family -- and how much it hurts when we sometimes have to say, "Instead, here we are."